Panel Backs Genetic Engineering; National Academy Scientists Urge 'Case-by-Case' Evaluation of Food

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Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Genetically engineered crops on the market are safe to eat, and genetic engineering is "not an inherently hazardous process," a report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds.

The 235-page report by the NAS National Research Council and Institute of Medicine says it is "scientifically unjustified" to assess food safety solely on the method of breeding.

Genetic engineering uses molecular biology techniques to delete genes or to transfer foreign genes from one species to another.

"Instead, foods modified by any method that changes genetic composition should, when warranted by their individual characteristics, be evaluated on a case-by-case basis before their commercial release," says the 13-member panel that completed the report.

The committee - chaired by Bettie Sue Masters, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio - did not give genetic engineering a free pass.

"Adverse health effects from genetic engineering have not been documented in the human population, but the technique is new and concerns about its safety remain," the group says.

The report uses the term "genetic modification" to describe the broad array of breeding techniques - ranging from traditional cross-breeding to genetic engineering to the use of chemicals or radiation - used to alter plant and animal traits that can be inherited by succeeding generations.

"All evidence, to date, indicates that any breeding technique that alters a plant or animal - whether by genetic engineering or other methods - has the potential to create unintended changes in the quality or amounts of food components that could harm health," Ms. …